WSOP 2011: Akkari heads up for first bracelet

wsop2011-thumb-blog.pngAlmost every picture taken of Andre Akkari (at least those taken when he saw the camera) features him with his thumbs in the air, a giant smile on his face, or, often, both. The happy Brazilian carries with him an air of almost constant content. No matter the slings and arrows he faces, Akkari is a man with his spirit on display.

Knowing that fact and knowing Akkari's heart makes the following fact all the more poignant: last night Akkari found himself in tears in a World Series of Poker bathroom. He had just made his first WSOP final table with a decent chip stack. It was as if he had made a World Cup winning goal. The Brazilian poker community exploded in the Rio, in the forums, on Twitter, and just about anywhere the blue and green flag flew. It was all just a little much for Akkari to take. Before the end of the night, he would be heads-up for the bracelet and, for the moment, the pride of Brazilian poker.

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A few days ago, Akkari was one of more than 2,800 people to enter a $1,500 no-limit hold'em WSOP event. It was something he'd done many times before. Competing for four million dollar prize pools is nothing new to the guy. He joined Team PokerStars Pro during the WSOP in 2007 and has been a fixture at major tournaments ever since. During that time, he's put up some big wins (including back to back Bellagio Cup victories and a $200,000 WCOOP runner-up finish), but never anything as big as he has in store for him tonight. No matter what happens between now and Akkari's next sleep, he will bank at least $419,173, more than double his biggest-ever poker win.

To make the day bigger than that, Akkari has some work to do. His opponent, Nachman Berlin, currently has a 2.8-1 chip lead. When they sit back down to play today, Akkari will have 34 big blinds and a mountain to climb. Or, as Akkari put it last night, he's going to have to win it "the hard way." If he does, it will mean winning his first WSOP bracelet and $675,117.

This has not been Akkari's easiest year. Since the last WSOP, Akkari's father passed away. The Team Pro's total live tournament cashes in 2011 amount to less than $10,000. It was time for something good to happen to the smiling man from Sao Paulo.

Now it has.

After breaking from the game for the night, Akkari sat in his bed and wondered, "How am I going to sleep?"

It's a good question. How often in life does anyone have a chance to reach out and grab one of his profession's grandest laurels? Most poker players never make a WSOP final table, let alone gets heads up for a bracelet. This is the first year that the WSOP has employed what it calls the "hard stop," a system in which play must end at a designated time no matter what's going on in the tournament. Last night, that time came too soon for Akkari.

How is anybody supposed to go to sleep knowing he will soon be handed more money than he's ever held in his hands? How is anybody suposed to sleep knowing a country of people is rooting him on? How is anybody supposed to sleep knowing he is one player away from a WSOP bracelet?

No matter when he drifts off to dreams of his biggest-ever victory, Akkari will be back at the table at 3pm Vegas time to see if he can win it the hard way.

Good luck today, Andre. Hope you're getting some sleep.

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in World Series of Poker